Author Spotlight: Rochelle Melander

It’s time for another Author Spotlight, and I am so excited that today’s Author Spotlight is also a Book Tour Stop for Rochelle Melander’s newest release Mightier Than the Sword: Rebels, Reformers, and Revolutionaries Who Changed the World through Writing.

Rochelle Melander wrote her first book at seven and has published 11 books for adults. Mightier Than the Sword: Rebels, Reformers, and Revolutionaries Who Changed the World through Writing is her debut book for children. She’s a professional certified coach, an artist educator and the founder of Dream Keepers, a writing workshop for young people. She lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with her husband, children, and two dogs. Visit her online at writenowcoach.com or rochellemelander.com

Thank you so much for joining me today! I am so excited to chat with you today, but I was hoping you might start us out by introducing yourself, and telling us a bit about your latest release Mightier Than The Sword: Rebels, Reformers& Revolutionaries Who Changed The World Through Writing.

Thanks so much for welcoming me to your blog! I’m excited to be here.

Let’s start with the important things: I live in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, not far from Lake Michigan with two dogs, two kids, and my husband, who is also a writer. My family keeps me grounded. 

I own the business, Write Now! Coach and coach writers and students who struggle to overcome procrastination and distractions to get their work done. I also edit and do freelance writing. Mightier Than the Sword is my 12th book, and my first book for young people. I’ve wanted to write for young people for a long time, and I am delighted to finally have that chance!

Mightier Than the Sword: Rebels, Reformers, and Revolutionaries Who Changed the World through Writing is a middle grade social justice book that tells the stories of historical and contemporary writers, activists, scientists, and leaders who used writing to make a difference in their lives and the world. The stories are accompanied by writing and creative exercises to help readers discover how they can use writing to explore ideas and ask for change.

Title: Mightier Than the Sword: Rebels, Reformers, and Revolutionaries Who Changed the World through Writing
Author: Rochelle Melander
Illustrator: Melina Ontiveros
Publisher: Beaming Books
Published: July 27, 2021
Recommended Ages: 8-13 Years
Format: Hardcover

What inspired you to write Mightier Than the Sword?

I’ve been teaching writing to young people for many years. I often use mentor texts as writing prompts—maybe the poems of Richard Wright or Langston Hughes. I tell them stories about the writers, too. Young people liked hearing stories of people like Maria Merian, who at 13 designed an experiment to study the life cycle of silkworms. I also found stories online about young people who wrote to change the world—people that wouldn’t normally be included in a book. After using these stories for years, I felt like it was time to create a resource so that I could share these stories and writing exercises with young people.

Mightier Than the Sword is such a unique book in that it’s both a biography collection and a collection of writing prompts. How did the idea for such a unique format come to you?

I love books that are interactive, that invite the reader to participate in some way. My last book, Level Up: Quests to Master Mindset, Overcome Procrastination, and Increase Productivity invites readers to take on quests to understand and improve their work habits. I wanted Mightier Than the Sword to share the stories about mentors and then encourage young people to write. The writing prompts enabled me to do that.

You cover so many wonderful writers in Mightier Than the Sword, (I think I counted 140 including the mini-biographies peppered throughout) spanning from 978 to present day. There are so many people throughout history who have changed the world with writing. I know it must have been hard to narrow down your selection. How did you select the writers you included? What was the research process like? It must have been quite an undertaking!

I have been collecting names and stories for years. To develop the list, I read many anthologies, searched online, and talked to history and English professors. Then I chose an array of people based on three criteria:

  • Representation. I wanted children to find a diverse cast of people from a wide range of cultures, life experiences, and writing styles. 
  • Diverse disciplines. I wanted young people to see the unique ways people use writing in their work. 
  • Recognizability. I wanted young people to open the book and recognize some of the writers.

Once the book was accepted by the publisher, we worked together to finalize the list.

Then, I started reading and writing. For each person or document, I read an article on Wikipedia or a history website (https://besthistorysites.net/general-history-resources/). If possible, I read primary sources. Next, I turned to biographies and other history books. After I wrote the chapter, I would often go back through these resources to check my facts.

I wrote the book during the pandemic. I was very lucky. When I had a sense that the libraries were going to close, I spent a wild weekend running around to various libraries in town, checking out books. I think I had over 100 books checked out during that time. And during the research process, I purchased a few books as well. 

I know it sounds like a lot of work, and it was—but I really enjoyed digging into the lives of these writers!

Not to ask you to play favorites, but were there any standout subjects that were more fun to research or write about?

I found Charles Darwin’s story to be helpful and inspiring. He goofed off in grade school, skipping out to wander the woods or do chemistry experiments with his brother. (Don’t think he was being studious—he made laughing gas!). He went to college to study medicine but didn’t like it. Then he tried divinity studies (Rev. Darwin?). All along he was chasing after beetles, which was a popular pastime in his day. His father thought he was a failure. A trip around the world launched his career as a naturalist. He spent the rest of his life doing experiments and writing books—while working about 3 hours a day. He was a great dad, keeping detailed journals about their development (they may have been a science experiment to him). And when On the Origin of the Species was published, he spent much of his time promoting his book: by writing letters! I was inspired that Darwin wasn’t the typical overachiever and yet, when he followed his passion, he achieved so much. 

The portrait illustrations by Melina Ontiveros are so great, and I love that we get a face to put with the names and stories of each writer featured. I believe Mightier Than The Sword is your first illustrated title? How was your experience working with an illustrator?

Melina is wonderful! I didn’t actually work with her—all the briefings went through my editors. But we’ve gotten to know each other on Instagram and email. She’s going to be a guest on my blog next week (writenowcoach.com/blog). And I hired her to make a Mightier-like portrait of me!

You’ve been writing since you were young, and now assist young writers through your writing workshop Dream Keepers. What books or authors inspired you to write the most as a child?

Hands down, Madeleine L’Engle. In second grade, I fell in love with A Wrinkle in Time. When I was in my first job, I learned she was going to be presenting at a conference in a town nearby. I was lucky enough to meet her. 
I was also inspired by poets and playwrights. When I was 6, a friend gave me the book, I See a Poem. I read that book so many times. As a teen, I read the play, The Belle of Amherst by William Luce, and fell in love with Emily Dickinson and her poetry. (My favorite was, “I’m Nobody! Who are you?”) I kept a commonplace book, where I copied down quotes and poems I liked. And, I had notebooks where I wrote bad poetry!

Mightier than The Sword is a perfect selection for classrooms with so many writing prompts to choose from. If teachers and young readers only take one thing away from Mightier Than the Sword, what would you want it to be?

I want young readers to see that there are many different kinds of writers and many ways to write. I want Mightier Than the Sword to be an invitation to them, letting them know that the world needs their ideas and stories and activism. 

I hope teachers will be inspired by the many types of writing—and use the book as a supplement to their curriculum. 

Those are all of my questions. Thank you again for taking the time to answer them all! Is there anything else you’d like to share with Mutually Inclusive’s readers?

Thanks so much for having me. I have a blog where writers talk about how to use their books in the classroom. Feel free to stop by: themightywriters.com.

You can find Rochelle online at writenowcoach.com or rochellemelander.com, and on social media at Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

Don’t Miss The Rest of The Tour!

You Might Also Like:

Author Spotlight – Sarah & Ian Hoffman

It’s time for another Author Spotlight! Today, I am chatting with Sarah and Ian Hoffman, the authors of the beloved (and banned) Jacob series, about their most recent release: Jacob’s School Play: Starring He, She, and They. I am so excited for this interview, so let’s jump right in.

First of all, I want to thank you both for taking the time to do this interview with me! I am thrilled to talk to you about your latest release Jacob’s School Play: Starring He, She, and They, but first, would you mind introducing yourselves to Mutually Inclusive’s readers? 


Hi! We’re Sarah and Ian Hoffman. We’re authors, we’re married, and we have two kids, Sam and Ruby. We live in San Francisco in an old Victorian house with the kids, 3 chickens, 2 rabbits, 1 cat, and +/- 30,000 bees. The two of us have been working together on all kinds of projects for the last 25 years. 

Jacob’s School Play is the third installation in the Jacob series, and each title focuses on gender nonconformity and the diversity of gender expression. Can I ask what drew you to write about the experiences of gender-nonconforming children?


When our son, Sam, was two, he started to be interested in things traditionally considered “girl things,” like fairies and Disney princess. He started wearing pink t-shirts and growing his hair long. At school, he only played with the girls. By the time he was four, Sam was wearing a tutu at home every day after preschool, and going to ballet class. Every day at preschool he wore the princess dress-up costume. One day, he asked us for a dress that he could wear “for real.” Sam knew that kids at school would make fun of him, but he wanted to wear a dress more than he wanted not to be teased. After that day, he started wearing a dress to school every day.

Sam was the only dress-wearing boy in our community, but we knew he wasn’t the only dress-wearing boy in the world. So we looked for books where Sam could see other kids who were like him. And we discovered there were none! Our desire to help our son see himself reflected in a book inspired us to write one. That was Jacob’s New Dress, which is about a little boy who likes something that’s outside of typical gender roles. Just like a little girl in pants would have been 100 years ago.

Among the unexpected things we discovered while raising a gender nonconforming son was the challenge of public bathrooms. It wasn’t safe to send Sam by himself into any public bathroom, including playgrounds, stores, restaurants—even his own school! Talking with the parents of other kids like Sam, we learned their kids were suffering the same as ours. It looked like the world needed a book about bathrooms, so we got back to work.  Our second book, Jacob’s Room To Choose, tackles the subject of kids being allowed to use the bathroom that’s right for them, whatever their gender. 

Our third book, Jacob’s School Play: Starring He, She, and They! (which came out in May of this year), is about the next subject we wanted to talk about: pronouns!

Title: Jacob’s School Play: Starring He, She, and They
Author: Sarah Hoffman and Ian Hoffman
Illustrator: Chris Case
Publisher: Magination Press
Published: May 4, 2021
Format: Picture Book

Fans of the series will see familiar faces like Jacob, Sophie, and Ms. Reeves, but in Jacob’s School Play we meet a new character named Ari, who uses they/them pronouns. Throughout the book, you present identity in such a beautifully simple way, with an emphasis on trusting people’s ability to correctly identify themselves. What was the research process like for Jacob’s School Play? How did you land on this honest and simple representation of pronoun options?


Our research process was messy, broad, and open-ended. We knew what we wanted to write about—pronouns. We also knew that pronouns are in flux and there aren’t many settled rules. So we decided to have a lot of conversations with people—many of them strangers—about potentially uncomfortable topics. Basically we said, “Hey, our kid’s gender nonconforming, and we know what our world is like.  But we don’t know anything about you or your world. Do you mind if we ask?” That led to a lot of unexpected and enlightening discussions. There are a lot of people who don’t fit into the boxes society has created. 

Eventually we took what we’d learned and turned it into a story. Which was its own messy, broad, and open-ended process. At some point in the writing we started to think about the kind of questions that Jacob would have. Then we thought about how his teacher would respond. Imagining the conversation between those two characters led to a simple explanation of pronouns options. You can explain most topics to a curious 5-year old, if you can distill them down to their essence.

I really like that the focus of the series shifted from learning about Jacob to Jacob learning about other children’s perspectives in Jacob’s School Play. Was it difficult as writers to shift the focus away from Jacob’s experiences toward Jacob’s education around other children’s perspectives?


Now that the book is finished, it seems like a natural and obvious progression. During the writing, it took a while to figure out what we were trying to say, how to say it, and from whose point of view. Writing is just as messy as real life. Surprise!

In the big picture, we’re interested in building a culture of kindness. We hope that when our books are taught, it’s not just to support the kids who are different. We hope our books allow the kids who don’t see themselves reflected in the book to think, “Oh, look. There’s another way of being a kid.” We’re trying to open the doors to new perspectives.

What is the most important message you want young readers to take away from Jacob’s School Play?


The message of all our books is: there’s all sorts of ways to be a kid. So be yourself, be open to new ideas, and don’t hurt anybody else.

Kids are very accepting of new ideas. We’ve noticed that kids are very comfortable with ideas about gender and pronouns. It’s usually the adults who are struggling. 

Jacob’s New Dress is one of the American Library Association’s most banned titles of the decade. How does it make you feel to know that there are folks out there who are attempting to ban the books you’re creating?


How does it make us feel? Like we’re doing the work that needs to be done.

We raised a gender non-conforming boy. We are well aware there are people who are uncomfortable that kids like our son exist. We also know that in unsupportive environments, LGBTQ+ kids are teased, ostracized, bullied, and brutalized. We want to try to prevent these behaviors—before they start—by building a culture that tolerates, values, and celebrates difference. 

If our book is getting banned, that means people are actually seeing it in libraries and schools. For every adult trying to ban it, there are even more kids reading it. Those kids are getting the message that it’s ok to be like Jacob, or Sophie, or Ari. There’s nothing we could be prouder of then throwing a lifeline to child who needs it.

What’s one piece of advice you would give to parents of gender non-conforming children? 


First, find support—for both yourselves and your children. Join a support group of like-minded parents; bring your child to a group for gender-nonconforming or trans kids. Enlist thoughtful, supportive family and friends to buoy and celebrate your child and your efforts to make their world safe. Read books about parenting gender-creative children, and fill your child’s library with books that reflect gender diversity. Ask your school to be proactive about anti-bullying programs in general and gender education in particular (and if asking doesn’t work, demand it). Educate everyone you can. Gender diversity is a new concept for most people; ignorance and prejudice are deeply ingrained. Even people who love your children—like grandparents—often need time to adjust. See each interaction as an opportunity to educate someone else about the many forms of gender expression.

Remember that your responsibility is to your child, not to manage the discomfort of adults. Walk away from judgment, and shield your child from it as best you can.  And when you can’t shield them, teach them to manage it. Teach them the historical context for overcoming bias. When Sam was in kindergarten, we taught him about Rosa Parks and Harvey Milk—regular people who stood up to bias against them and changed the world. Tell your child that the world will change. That it is changing. And that they are helping to change it, just by being themselves.

And lastly: breathe. When you’re the parent of a kid who’s different, it’s easy to overthink everything you do, tempting to try to interpret the significance of everything your kid does, and appealing to try to predict the future. Our job is to accept our kids for who they are, and to protect them from harm. We can’t know who or what our children will evolve into as they grow up. We had no idea that one day Sam would put on pants and cut his hair short (as he did at age 11) and be happy with that choice. We had no idea if he would grow up to be straight, gay, bi, gender-queer, trans, or his own special something—in fact, we still don’t. Sam, like all of us, is a work in progress. All we as parents can do is support our children unconditionally, and be open to who they become.

As a married couple and co-authors, how is it writing with each other? What does a typical workday look like, and how does your creative process work together?


We are very, very lucky to work together. We have the same core values, but very different skills. Sarah thinks fast and big-picture. Ian thinks slowly and resonates with the details. Once we figured out how to interact over work—as opposed to as a couple—we saw that our complimentary skills brought a lot of depth to our work life. 

Our writing process is like our parenting process is like our life process—we don’t really separate them. One of us has an idea, and we talk it over to see if it’s a good one. If it is, then someone starts the project. With writing, one of us will generate a first draft, then turn it over to the other for editing/comments/revision. Then it goes back and forth between us until it’s ready. Nowadays we have two very insightful teenagers in our house, and we seek out their opinions. They’re an unexpected bonus!

What should we expect to see from you in the future? Are there more adventures for Jacob on the horizon?


Yes, there are! Right now we’re working on a book about holidays. Jacob and his friends are such a great crew, we feel like they’re ready to handle another broad, messy, open-ended topic that’s rich in meaning. 

Is there anything else you’d like to share with readers of this blog?


We just want to thank you for the work that you do to bring inclusive and engaging books to kids. We love the positive energy you bring to the field. Thank you for including us!

Thank you both so much for your time, and for creating books that radiate warmth, love, and inclusion. 

You can find Sarah and Ian online on Instagram (@sarahandianhoffman), Twitter (@SarahHoffman101), and at their website sarahandianhoffman.com.

You Might Also Like:

Author Spotlight – Norene Paulson

I am thrilled to announce another additional feature here on Mutually Inclusive! Today marks the very first Author Spotlight, which will be a weekly introduction to the authors behind some of my favorite titles, both new and old. Today I am honored to share an interview with Norene Paulson with you all.

Norene Paulson is a former middle school language arts teacher who loves words. She is the author of Benny’s True Colors, and her articles have also appeared in several children’s magazines including Highlights. Norene lives with her husband on a country acreage in Iowa.

Norene has joined me today to chat about her newest title: What’s Silly Hair Day With No Hair? released by Albret Whitman on March 23rd. What’s Silly Hair Day With No Hair? follows a young girl named Bea, who has alopecia areata, as she figures out how to participate in Silly Hair Day without any hair.

First, thank you for agreeing to take part in this interview! I really appreciate you taking the time to answer all my questions. To get started, could you tell me and my readers a bit about yourself, and your latest title What’s Silly Hair Day With No Hair?

Thank you for featuring me, Devyn. I’m thrilled to share with your readers a little about me and my writing journey, including my latest title What’s Silly Hair Day With No Hair?

I’ve been writing kidlit for literally decades. I started writing kids’ nonfiction (now known as STEM) articles for children’s magazines when my boys were small (and they are both in their 30’s now) and was relatively successful in that market. However, the more Berenstain Bear and Little Critter books I read to them, the more I decided I wanted to try my hand at writing picture books. Well, I spent a lot of years perfecting my skills and FINALLY in 2018 I connected with my agent, Naomi Davis of BookEnds Literary Agency, through a #PBPitch Twitter party. About six weeks later, we sold my debut book, Benny’s True Colors to Imprint/Macmillan.

Bea, the main character in What’s Silly Hair Day With No Hair?, has alopecia. What inspired you to write about alopecia?

I didn’t intentionally set out to write a story about alopecia. The inspiration for the heart of the story came about because as a former middle school teacher, I was always uncomfortable when events or activities were planned that left some students sidelined for whatever reason. Spirit Week was one of those events. The connection with alopecia was the result of my remembering a teaching colleague with alopecia who dressed up for all the Spirit Week Days except Silly Hair Day. That led me to “What if a student had alopecia, how could they join in the fun and not be sidelined?

What was the research process like for What’s Silly Hair Day With No Hair?

I started by simply learning more about the different types of alopecia by visiting websites such as http://www.naaf.org (National Alopecia Areata Foundation) and http://www.childrensalopeciaproject.org (Children’s Alopecia Project). From there I read personal experience stories and started to feel a connection to kids experiencing hair loss.

What is the key message you hope young readers take away from What’s Silly Hair Day With No Hair?

I hope Bea’s story empowers young readers to speak up when they witness someone being left out or sidelined. Everyone deserves the opportunity to participate in every activity every time, so be the problem-solver…be the changemaker. I also hope that adults charged with planning activities for kids will think twice about how they, too, can make their activities inclusive.

I also covered your debut Benny’s True Colors recently, and while the two books follow very different characters, they both have themes of acceptance and inclusion. Does your previous experience as a teacher influence the inclusive themes of your books?

Definitely. I write books about friendship, acceptance and inclusion because as a former middle school teacher I witnessed first-hand how difficult growing up can be particularly for those kids who for whatever reason don’t fit the mold. Lessons in kindness, friendship, acceptance and inclusion need to be introduced early in a child’s life and repeatedly reinforced.

What does your typical workday look like as a children’s book author?

The only thing typical about my writing workday is I try to do something writing-related every day. With two books released within four months of each other, a lot of my time now is spent on marketing and promotion. I didn’t realize the amount of time that requires. Plus, I am in two promo groups so enjoy spending time online promoting other authors/ friends.

What’s your favorite part of your job?

I love revising. A blank page (or screen doc) is intimidating. I struggle to get the first ideas written, but once there is a beginning, a middle, and an end, I love dancing with the text. Add in some feedback from my critique partners, and I’m Happy Dancing! Also, I love having a deadline. A procrastinator by nature, I can have an exciting story idea but find hundreds of reasons not to sit down and start writing. However, if I know I have to have something completed by a certain date, that deadline jumpstarts my creativity.

If you weren’t writing books, what do you think you’d be doing?

I’m sure whatever it was would involve books…maybe working in a library or bookstore. I did work in a library cataloging new books for a few years. I really enjoy working surrounded by stacks of books.

What can readers expect from you in the future? Will we see any more titles featuring Bea and/or Shaleah?

I have several manuscripts out on submission now, so keeping my fingers crossed that one or both catch the eye of an editor. I have several manuscripts in various stages of revision—neither to the point of sharing with my critique partners. As always, there are ideas swirling around in my head. I like to say they are percolating. As far as another story featuring Bea and Shaleah, I do have an idea percolating, but in publishing there’re no guarantees.

Anything else you’d like to share with Mutually Inclusive’s readers?

If something I’ve written has touched them in a positive way, I’d love for them to reach out. Knowing that someone has connected with my words warms my heart and keeps me writing. I can be found on Twitter @NorenePaulson or on Instagram @nrpaulson. They can also check out my website norenepaulson.com.

Thanks, Devyn! I’ve enjoyed chatting with you and your readers.

Thank you for joining us, Norene. I had a blast!

Don’t forget that you can pick up your very own copy of What’s Silly Hair Day With No Hair? wherever books are sold, including Bookshop and Amazon. (Please note: Some links provided are affiliate links. Affiliate links allow me to receive a small commission for recommendations at no cost to you. This commission is used to maintain this site and to continue bringing content to you. I always appreciate your support!)

I hope you all enjoyed this new feature, and I look forward to sharing many more author reviews with you soon!

You Might Also Like: